It was my first climb on Everest. As I left the last camp at 26,000 feet, to climb to the summit, I remembered the words of my climbing colleagues, “you will come across the dead bodies of many climbers on the way to the summit, it`s really frightening.” That part of the Everest experience isn’t talked much about outside the climbing circles.
Even though I was prepared, it was still a shock to come face to face with this frozen graveyard. If their faces had not been covered in snow, I would have thought they were sitting down taking a rest before climbing onwards. There was not much time to think. I had to reach the summit to complete my work, the first official measurement of Mount Everest in over three decades. As I pushed on, I passed more and more bodies, attempting to bury them beneath thoughts of reaching the summit.
At the third step, of the final pitch, I came across something I couldn’t bury. It was the body of a climber who had just died the day before. I knew him. We had spent the last few days together at camp, talking about climbing and our hopes of reaching the summit. The leader of his expedition had asked us to look out for him because he had not returned the day before. Even if he had still been alive, it would have been impossible to get him down from there.
A few hundred feet from the top, the wind became much stronger and I came to the cross roads many of the inhabitants of this “Dead Zone” had come to before me; continue with the dream or give up and return to camp. I stood there, hesitating for ten minutes before making that decision. I reached the summit, completed the measurement work for the government and made my way back to camp. That night, I thought about all the climbers who never made it off the mountain. I often wonder what makes us risk our lives to climb a mountain?
When I returned home to Chengdu and saw my young son, I said to myself, I will never go back to Mount Everest. But then, in 2008, when the government asked me to be the photographer for the Olympic Torch ascent of Everest, I agreed to go. I guess it’s in my blood – adventure for a lifetime.